Pneumonia is one of the most common respiratory infections that affect children, especially newborns.
It has been estimated that about 14% of deaths in children under the age of 5 occur due to pneumonia.
There are several causes and risk factors of pneumonia.
In this article, we will be discussing everything about pneumonia, including its causes, symptoms, prevention, and treatment. Let’s dive right in.
What Is Pneumonia?
Alveoli (the lung’s air sac) are the smallest but the most crucial part of the respiratory system responsible for exchanging gases (carbon dioxide and oxygen).
Various respiratory diseases affect these balloon-shaped structures and limit oxygen supply like emphysema, tuberculosis, pulmonary edema, and pneumonia. Pneumonia is the most common among these diseases and can be deadly.
Pneumonia is a respiratory infection that affects the alveoli by accumulating them with fluids and pus instead of air. This accumulation of pus occurs due to the alveoli (air sac) inflammation.
This inflammation is a response of the body’s immune system towards infectious particles. This makes breathing painful because the intake of oxygen is limited. Late diagnosis of this lung infection can be life-threatening .
Infants and children till the age of 12 are mostly affected by it. Pneumonia also affects people with weak immune systems older than 60. It is the most prevalent reason for children to be hospitalized.
Is Pneumonia Contagious?
There are several forms of pneumonia, but viral and bacterial pneumonia are the most common, unlike fungal pneumonia. Several factors like the patient’s age, immune system, and diagnosis determine whether the infection is contagious or not.
However, lack of awareness and late diagnosis of this infection can be very harmful. Among the different types of pneumonia, bacterial pneumonia is the most dangerous.
9 Signs & Symptoms of Pneumonia
The symptoms of this respiratory infection vary from mild (unnoticed) to severe. The following signs and symptoms are very common in all types of pneumonia:
- Heavy coughing along with colored mucus (yellowish, greenish, and in extreme cases bloody).
- Body sweat
- Weakness and fatigue
- Shortness of breath
- Loss of appetite
- Chest pain
- Brain fogginess in older people
If you are experiencing more than three of these symptoms, consult a doctor. Early diagnosis is very beneficial for the patient’s health.
Types Of Pneumonia
The following are some common types of pneumonia:
1. Hospital-Acquired Pneumonia (HAP)
Pneumonia that is acquired through a hospital is called Hospital-acquired pneumonia. HAP is more contagious than the other types as the infectious agent can develop resistance against antibiotics .
2. Community-Acquired Pneumonia (CAP)
Pneumonia acquired other than hospitals and medical centers are called community acquired pneumonia.
3. Ventilator-Associated Pneumonia (VAP)
This type of pneumonia is acquired through a ventilator.
4. Aspiration Pneumonia
Aspiration pneumonia is acquired from saliva, food, objects, drinks, or a person. If this type of pneumonia is left untreated, it can get very serious .
Causes Of Pneumonia
Organisms like viruses, bacteria, and fungi are responsible for causing pneumonia. Viral and bacterial pneumonia are more commonly occurring and more severe than fungal pneumonia.
Bacteria causing pneumonia is the most common yet more serious than the other types. Among different bacterial agents, Streptococcus pneumoniae is the most common.
Pneumococcal pneumonia can easily be contracted from an already infected person, contaminated objects, and foods.
The symptoms of bacterial pneumonia are:
- High fever (105 degrees)
- Increased breathing
- High pulse rate
- Body sweating
- Bluish nails and lips
- Confused state .
Other bacteria like mycoplasma pneumoniae are responsible for causing “walking pneumonia.” It is mildly occurring pneumonia, and it is also called “a-typical pneumonia.”
Symptoms of walking pneumonia are mild fever, cough, and cold-like symptoms. Bacterial pneumonia can affect the whole lungs or a single lobe, causing “lobar pneumonia.”
Respiratory viruses are the causing agents of pneumonia. Viral infections like cold, rhinovirus, adenovirus, human parainfluenza virus (HPIV), human metapneumovirus (HMPV) and chickenpox, etc., often cause pneumonia .
The symptoms of viral pneumonia are very much similar to bacterial. Viral pneumonia’s healing rate is faster than bacterial and fungal. In most cases, it can be treated with at-home remedies.
Fungal pneumonia is caused due to the intake of fungal spores, which are usually present in soil, and birds’ feces. This is the least occurring pneumonia and primarily affects people with a weakened immune system.
The most common example of this type is Pneumocystis jirovecii, Histoplasmosis species, and Cryptococcus species.
What Are The Risk Factors?
Children under the age of 3 years and elderly people are at the highest risk of acquiring this infection. There are also other risk factors, which we discuss below.
- A hospitalized person is at high risk for acquiring this infection, especially if on a ventilator.
- Diseases like asthma and other pulmonary disorders can lead to causing pneumonia.
- Smoking can affect the body’s immune system against the infectious agents causing pneumonia.
- People with a weakened immune system, chemotherapy, and those with an organ transplant are at high risk .
When To See A Doctor?
Early diagnosis is extremely favorable as it eliminates the risk of complications. Consult a doctor immediately if you are experiencing sharp chest pain, high-grade fever, nausea, heavy breathing, and cough, along with bluish nails.
Call a doctor if the patient is older than 65, younger than 12, and has an underlying disorder or weak immune system. Late diagnosis and treatment can turn the infection into life-threatening.
It is challenging to diagnose pneumonia as the symptoms are intermixed with other respiratory infections like cold and influenza. Medical history and tests, and physical examinations can help diagnose the infection.
To take your medical history, the doctor asks you several questions related to your symptoms, possible exposures, and other important things like:
- Recent trip/travel
- Animal contact
- Exposure to other people with pneumonia and other pulmonary diseases
- Any underlying disease
With the help of a stethoscope, the healthcare provider will search for any crackling and rumbling sounds from the lungs.
If the symptoms and signs are similar to pneumonia, the doctor will recommend tests that can confirm. These tests are:
- Chest X-Ray: This will help locate any inflammation in the lung tissue.
- Pulse oximetry: This helps measure the oxygen level in the blood as oxygen supply is limited in pneumonia.
- Sputum test: Mucus from a cough is taken and is tested for any infectious agents.
If the patient is old and/or suffering from a serious health condition, they can perform some other tests, including:
- CT scan: This helps get a clearer view of the lung tissue. It helps in locating any abscesses.
- Arterial Blood Gas Test: This helps measure the blood’s oxygen level by taking a sample of the blood from an artery. This procedure is much more accurate than pulse oximetry.
Treatment Options For Pneumonia
The treatment of pneumonia depends on the type you are suffering from and its severity. The doctor may prescribe you a list of medications to soothe the pain and relieve the symptoms.
1. Prescribed Medications
You can treat bacteria pneumonia with the help of oral medications. The doctor will run an entire course of antibiotics to eliminate the pus and fluid from the alveoli and soothe the pain.
Since antibiotic medications do not work on viruses, your healthcare provider will recommend antiviral drugs. However, you can easily treat most viral pneumonia at home.
Antifungal medications will help in clearing the lung infection. This course might take several weeks.
If the condition worsens, then hospitalization is often the best choice as the staff will keep track of your symptoms. They will make their decisions according to your health state.
3. Over-The-Counter Medication
Your healthcare provider can also recommend over-the-counter (OTC) medications based on your health state to relieve your pneumonia symptoms. These medications include:
- Ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin)
- Acetaminophen (Tylenol) .
Coughing syrups are also helpful in limiting the cough. But coughing actually helps eliminate the extra mucus and fluid from the lungs.
There is a list of things that you can do to ease your pneumonia symptoms and soothe the pain. For example:
- You can treat your coughing with peppermint tea and hot garlic. Gargling with salty water can also treat frequent coughing.
- A wet, cold towel can help in lowering the fever.
- Warm fluids and soup can help with the chills.
- Taking plenty of rest and eating healthy food is really necessary.
These home remedies might relieve the pain, but proper treatment is also essential.
Pneumonia is a very common yet serious respiratory issue. The treatment and recovery time mostly depends on the degree of severity, type, and age. Young patients tend to take less time than old patients due to their robust immune systems.
Implementation of the following steps can be beneficial in reducing the risks of complications:
- Drinking plenty of fluids.
- Eating healthy food.
- Hygienic environment.
- Taking medications as prescribed by the doctor.
- Getting yourself vaccinated.
Vaccination is critical as it protects your body against viruses, bacteria, and fungi. In the case of pneumonia, there are two crucial vaccines:
- PCV13- provides protection against bacteria causing pneumonia.
- PPSV23- offers protection against 23 different kinds of bacterial pneumonia.
Lungs are the most crucial organ of the body. Without them, a person wouldn’t even survive minutes. Infections like pneumonia affect the functionality of the lungs and make it painful for the patient to breathe.
Lack of awareness and late diagnoses can be fatal for the patient’s health and the people around them. It is necessary to keep track of your symptoms and report to the doctor if they are somewhat similar to the above-listed ones. The treatment of pneumonia depends mainly on the type of infectious agent.